The Panasonic Eluga marks the company’s return to the European mobile phone scene years after several years of absence, and it’s come back to us with a moderately high-spec Android model that features a rather stylish, slim case.
The Eluga’s powered by a 1GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP processor, which is running a 4.3″ OLED display. The only downer here is that Android 2.3.5 comes pre-loaded as the OS, which is an odd choice for a brand new phone releasing this late into 2012 that’s presumably rather important to Panasonic.
The hardware’s very nice… in most places. The front of the Eluga’s one single piece of glass, with three capacitive touch buttons beneath it. There’s no Android 4.0 multitasking button here, with the Eluga simply having the old Android format of Menu, Home and Back.
It’s pretty minimalist and clean, reminiscent of the equally black and angular Xperia S, with sharp edges and a glossy finish. Those capacitive buttons are backlit, but the light goes out after a few seconds and won’t come on again until you press one. We hate that. Don’t copy things from LG, Panasonic!
The display runs at 960×540 resolution, although the OLED technology means it’s not quite as sharp as the rival LCD tech, with the same trademark OLED “mesh” effect visible over icons and text. Panasonic’s gloomy default background doesn’t help much, either.
The Eluga feels much smaller in the hand than rival phones with similarly sized screens, thanks to the super-slim body and pulled in, cutaway sides. It’s about the same size as the Xperia Arc, but somehow manages to feel much smaller thanks to this curvature.
The odd thing here is the way Panasonic’s had to put the volume and power buttons pretty much on the back of the phone as a result of its skinny sides, meaning you’ll fumble to find the power button for a while. It’s best unlocked held in your left hand, which makes the power button sit beneath your left index finger.
You do get NFC support in the Eluga, although there’s no flash on the camera. The lack of a flash is a very strange decision by Panasonic, especially on a phone that currently sells for well over £300.
It takes a Micro-SIM with the SIM slot and USB connector hidden behind chunky stoppers on the top of the phone. The Eluga’s another modern phone with a sealed chassis, though, so there’s no removable battery or SD card support here. This Euro-spec model comes with 8GB of storage space, with 1GB set aside for apps.
All of which means the Eluga’s a pretty stylish, slim choice, ideal for those who want a big display without adding any extra bulk to the pocket payload. We like it.
So here’s Panasonic’s user interface. It’s Android 2.3.5 given a very light skinning, with a stylish line-drawing lock screen greeting you when you eventually figure out where the power button is.
Beneath is a rather bland interpretation of Android 2.3. Panasonic’s adapted the dock a little and installed a couple of apps, but there’s very little in the way of customisation or additions in the Eluga. One nice feature is the expanding Home screens idea (right) which lets you drag icons to the left or right, with the phone creating a new Home screen if there’s nothing there.
You can have up to nine Home screens, which is a little unnecessary given how few widgets Panasonic’s actually included in here.
The app listing. You can edit the icon density (right) if you like, plus the icons can be dragged about if you’d like to change the order in which they appear.
Panasonic’s put on an “Eco Mode” tool and widget, but it’s not about saving icebergs. It’s about making the awfully small 1,150mAh battery last longer, by automating the switching off of power-hungry features.
You also get NFC support and a tag management app, plus Panasonic’s own little take at a task manager and app-switching tool (right) which you can access through a Home screen shortcut.
The music player is a low point. This gives us flashbacks to Android 1.5 circa 2009 it’s so clunky and old fashioned. God knows why Panasonic hasn’t done a little more with it. It does play music, though. It works. You just won’t want anyone to see you using it.
And the email app is also straight out of the HTC Magic or some other equally obsolete model. Works, but you won’t be impressing anyone with it either.
The SMS interface is another bland old Android option, but the Panasonic keyboard’s awesome. It uses line-drawing AND next word prediction tools, so you end up with a best-of-both combination of Swype and SwiftKey. No lag, great to use. Superb text entry system, that.
But what we do like and what has been worked upon is the Eluga’s camera app. It’s very nice, with big, clear icons, plenty of shooting modes and some rather cool features thrown in to differentiate it from the rest of the Android crowd.
This is the Collage option. It splits the screen in three, letting you take a separate photo for each third, which it then spits out as one combined shot. It’s a nice little tool, producing low-res montage results like this:
You also get a selection of photo frames, which are applied within the camera app. It drops the resolution when taking these images, presumably because you’ll be sticking them on social networks.
Again, it’s a bit silly, but we’ve certainly been having fun with it.
And the panorama option, which produces images like this:
The Eluga doesn’t do quite as good a job of creating these super wide scenes as the miraculous camera sensor found in the new HTCs, but it still does a decent enough job of blending larger views into one massive file.
Standard photos taken at the full 8megapixel resolution emerge at 2448×3264, looking very clean and sharp indeed. Easily comparable to the likes of the HTC One X and Xperia S, both of which produce great shots too.
Some of the images come off the Eluga at up to 5MB in size, so we assume Panasonic’s not applying much compression to the images. And it shows – they look very clean when viewed full-size, with none of the artifacting you often see when examining some phone camera shots.
If you want to reduce file sizes, there is an image quality option, which lets you drop them down to just “fine” or lower, without too much compromise.
Shame there’s no flash on the Eluga, as this really is one of the best phone cameras we’ve seen in terms of quality of results.
An example of the digital zoom. Doesn’t ruin the shots at all. Very nice. Also, one of the filters is applied here, which is why everything’s gone blue.
The pinhole vignette effect (left) and the exciting digger that appeared in the local area, much to the excitement of the small child pictured previously.
The compulsory example of the close-up abilities of the sensor. It captured the likeness of that bee very well.
Finally fulfilled my ambition of getting a photograph of a rainbow into a mobile phone review. Anyway. Another great Android-powered camera here that’s definitely one of the highlights of the Eluga, for its software, speed and quality of results.
The video produces clips at a maximum of 720p resolution, with your films emerging smooth and relatively detailed. It focuses quickly and there are no obvious glitches, plus colours are rather nice. Click through to YouTube to watch it at 720p resolution.
The Eluga’s video app again offers some cool little options…
…although why on earth Panasonic’s included a video scene mode specifically dedicated to recording “food” is a mystery.
And the gallery’s every bit as nice as the camera app. This grid can be pinch-zoomed to suit your viewing preference…
…plus this is a new Panasonic thing it calls the Picture Jump. Long-pressing a photo pulls up this custom sharing menu, which you can edit to feature any of the usual Android image sharing shortcuts. A nice little Panasonic software feature…
…although there’s no image editing software on the phone. Even though there’s an “edit” option. Weird thing to do.
The boring old Android phone and contacts section. Looks pretty awful, but works.
The dialer has all of the numbers, such as one, three, seven and nine, so you can input sequences and phone people. Thankyouverymuch.
To be honest, I’ve lost my PAYG Micro-SIM like an idiot so couldn’t check calling quality. Sorry about that. It’s probably fine. They’re usually fine, aren’t they?
Internet. The Eluga does Flash and handles it very well. Even having an embedded video playing doesn’t have much of an impact on page zooming and scrolling. The dual-core TI chipset is clearly rather capable, plus the 4.3″ display’s sharp enough for easy reading.
Panasonic’s not done anything with the browser, so it’s the plain and workmanlike standard Android 2.3 option all the way. Not that that’s a deal breaker, it’s just not quite as thrilling as the new Android 4.0 browser that’s appearing on rival models right now.
Google Maps is smooth and great fun to use on the dual-core processor, with GPS also quick and easy to get going.
Does YouTube. Does DLNA.
The usual long-press text selection options. Battery life’s not great. We struggled to make it through a full day with the Eluga, so your choice here is if you value a thin, light body over longevity. It’s a live fast/die young proposition.
Memory. Lots of apps (left) and 8GB of storage space, of which we’re only allowed to use a shade over 4GB. Maybe that lack of harsh image compression isn’t such a good feature after all…
A very boring Notes app, that’s laughable when compared with the amazing multimedia audio/text/drawing aggregator apps offered by third-party app makers and most other phone companies. And that’s a quite useful security tool (right) which offers help in setting up locking features and more…
…which includes these nice visual locking options. The one on the left’s a sort of safe-opening thing you rotate left and right, while the other’s a circle thing that… we don’t understand.
So. The Eluga. It’s a pleasantly odd and surprising phone. Some of the software’s laughably and inexcusably out of date, whereas the gallery, camera and security apps are innovative and unique.
The front the Eluga’s one lovely piece of glass and it certainly has more than enough power to offer an enjoyable, lag and glitch-free Android experience, plus it supports NFC technology, but the lack of camera flash and small 1,150mAh battery are odd, limiting choices for an important new and relatively high-spec phone.
It’s an odd one. Decent hardware both internally and externally, mixed with some rather outdated aspects of Android. If Panasonic can stick with its promise of getting Android 4.0 on the Eluga by this summer, it’d be a great little phone…
…but as it is, the Eluga’s one for people who like them a little different from the norm. We’d happily use it, and it’s a great performer, stylish and well made, but the OS really needs some updating before it could be considered a serious mass-market contender in 2012.
A very slim case, accompanied by a smooth, seamless glassy front. The capacitive buttons are perhaps a little low down for comfort, but that’s not a deal-breaker. The lack of camera flash is, though, especially on a phone costing over £300. If the Eluga was being sold for £99 we’d overlook it, but a flash is a must at this high price.
Some clever touches like the innovative camera app and gallery, but then you open up the music player, or the email app, and you’re transported back in time to when Android was rather grey and dull and very boring. No custom widgets of note, either, although at least there’s an NFC app for managing the contactless system.
We can’t pick many holes in the Eluga’s ability. The dual-core processor handles web content, Flash and apps well, the camera produces good results and the phone itself feels like a high-end product (apart from the plasticky power and volume buttons). The small 1,150mAh battery is a problem, though – battery life’s not great.
We like it, it’s better than a lot of Android phones out there, with a great, slim case that makes it feel smaller and lighter than other phones with similarly sized displays. It’s just a shame Panasonic hasn’t pushed the boat out and shipped its return to smartphones with a more polished, modern version of Android.